No reversal, Sam Altman confirms he will not return to OpenAI
Confirmed Sam Altman Will Not Rejoin OpenAI, Decision is Final
According to overseas media reports, two days after being fired from the OpenAI board, Sam Altman negotiated with the OpenAI board at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco on Sunday, urging the board to reinstate him and other recently departed executives. According to insiders, temporary CEO Mira Murati had earlier informed employees that she and the leadership team had invited Altman.
However, the latest news shows that the negotiations have failed. OpenAI co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever has just announced that, after negotiations, Altman will not be returning to the company. Meanwhile, Sutskever also revealed that Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear will take over as interim CEO of OpenAI.
According to Sutskever, he and the three other board members who replaced Altman stand by their decision, believing it to be the only way to uphold the company’s mission. They believe that Altman’s actions and interactions with the board have compromised the board’s ability to oversee the development of artificial intelligence at the company.
Over the past two days, there had been optimism about Altman’s return. Even the new temporary CEO Mira Murati had expressed her willingness to invite Sam Altman back. But now, it is confirmed that Altman will not be returning to OpenAI.
Altman’s departure has had an impact beyond just himself. OpenAI’s former chairman and president Greg Brockman resigned as chairman of the AI development company after Altman was fired from the board. Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon told employees on Saturday night that the company remains optimistic about reinstating Altman, Brockman, and the three senior researchers who resigned in support on Friday night.
Another person involved in negotiations with Altman is Will Hurd, who was a member of the OpenAI board and who ran for president earlier this year before ending his campaign. On Sunday, someone spotted Hurd at the OpenAI headquarters, increasing the possibility of his rejoining the company.
Mira Murati told employees on Sunday that she and her team were the first to request that the board bring OpenAI back to its previous state.
Some senior OpenAI employees spent Saturday at Altman’s home in San Francisco, hoping to help him regain his position. However, this matter is crucially related to the board, especially board member Ilya Sutskever, who is also a key researcher for the company responsible for many significant breakthroughs. Sutskever is one of the board members who dismissed Altman on Friday, and tensions about whether OpenAI’s leaders are safely developing artificial intelligence have been ongoing for quite some time.
Altman has had discussions with former Apple design director Jony Ive and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son about developing new AI hardware devices. Altman is a prolific trader and investor, with numerous overlapping stakes in startups, which has confused some of the companies he supports.
However, Sutskever’s decision to dismiss Altman did not receive the support of most employees. During a conversation with employees on Friday, Sutskever did not provide detailed reasons for firing Altman, and the board’s blog post only vaguely accused Altman of not being consistently candid with the board. Sutskever answered employees’ questions about whether he was involved in a “hostile takeover” and stated that he disagreed with that claim. Subsequently, many Silicon Valley figures, including Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, rallied in defense of Altman, and the company’s leading researchers expressed their intent to resign in support of Brockman.
OpenAI co-founder Andrej KarLianGuaithy, who recently returned to the company, said on X: “The board had the opportunity to explain their drastic actions, but they didn’t seize it, so there’s nothing more to say beyond appearances.” The possibility of these employees leaving, as well as the potential for further loss of employees (the number of applicants to Google’s DeepMind AI Lab is increasing), has prompted discussions between Altman, Murati, and the OpenAI board.
Microsoft has invested over $10 billion in OpenAI, including computing resources for developing ChatGPT and other AI models, which has become a significant business for both companies. Microsoft purchases dedicated AI servers and chips for OpenAI, so their decisions may heavily impact the future development of this startup.
Even Microsoft executives, including CEO Satya Nadella, were caught off guard by Altman’s sudden departure. Altman has been responsible for managing OpenAI for the past four years. Microsoft does not have a seat on OpenAI’s board but holds a significant amount of stock and has the right to leverage its technology permanently and receive theoretical future profits from the startup.
Two individuals familiar with the negotiations reveal that Microsoft is considering applying pressure on OpenAI’s board to bring back former CEO Sam Altman, who was forced to leave.
Reportedly, Satya Nadella has been discussing Altman’s return with OpenAI’s interim CEO Mira Murati. One insider said that if Altman cannot rejoin OpenAI, Microsoft will consider investing in his new AI company.
Nadella himself is unlikely to join OpenAI’s board and is likely to have one of his deputies, such as Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott, take on that role. Scott played a crucial role in the collaboration between Microsoft and OpenAI that began in 2019. This board observer position will give Microsoft the right to attend board meetings but will not include voting or participating in discussions.
The sudden announcement from the OpenAI board of directors on Friday has caused strong dissatisfaction among OpenAI employees and investors. Investors have been working behind the scenes to persuade Altman and Brockman to return. Some investors are encouraging senior executives at Microsoft to pave the way for the return of OpenAI leaders.
Meanwhile, Murati and other OpenAI leaders are currently negotiating with the current board of directors to reach an agreement that would allow Altman to resume his position and at the same time, have the current board of directors resign and be replaced by a new board.
By Sunday afternoon, a list of new board candidates has been circulating online. The list includes Bret Taylor, the former co-CEO of Salesforce, who recently founded a new artificial intelligence company, Marisa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo, Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia Capital, and Reid Hoffman, who stepped down from the OpenAI board earlier this year.
The suggestion of Microsoft or Sequoia serving on the board of directors indicates that the new OpenAI board may include some of their major investors, which is a significant change from the past. These investors and other investors, including Thrive Capital and Khosla Ventures, do not have seats on the board of directors of this for-profit startup’s non-profit organization. This is part of Altman and OpenAI’s co-founder’s unconventional structure designed to ensure that OpenAI remains committed to developing artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity rather than creating profit.
Earlier on Sunday, a prominent Microsoft investor criticized the tech giant for not having board representation in the past. Dan Loeb, the head of the activist hedge fund Third Point, said on X website that he was surprised the company did not insist on having board representation and described OpenAI’s governance as “astonishingly poor.” (Translation by Lü Ke)